Richard Green

The Railways of Mallorca

Richard Green

The island of Mallorca has two very disparate railway lines, both running from Palma, the island's capital city. There is also a tram line. A recent visit showed that all three routes have much to interest the transport enthusiast.

The Serveis Ferroviaris de Mallorca (SFM) is a 29 km double track line between Palma and Inca, the island's third largest town. It was opened in 1875, being built to 914 mm/3 ft gauge so that readily available British-built locomotives and rolling stock could be used. Four other lines followed, giving good penetration of the island, but all except the Inca line have closed. This survivor has been converted to metre gauge. Until recently, services were provided by 1966/73-built, 80 km/h single and 2-car diesel-hydraulic units but these are now working in Argentina. They have been replaced by new blue and white 100 km/h 2-car units. These are efficiently air-conditioned vehicles and complete the one-way journey in 36 minutes. The line provides a commuter service with 19 trains each way on weekdays at hourly or 40 minute intervals and 15 trains at hourly intervals at weekends. The fare is a mere ESP 455 return, about £1.75. There is no obvious attempt to attract tourist traffic. The line is certainly not particularly scenic but Inca proved to be an attractive city. There is currently a programme of massive investment in the line. In addition to the new stock, stations have been redeveloped and provided with high platforms. The Palma SFM station is being totally rebuilt. Today's Railways for November 1998 reported the planned reopening of 20 km of line from Inca to Sa Pobla. This was due for completion at the end of summer 1999 but work is still in progress, the new target being October this year. Plans now include an extension of a further 20 km to Alcudia on the north-east coast. This destination, with its archeological interest, should provide some tourist potential. These extensions must mean that more new units will be required. A large map at the hotel showed the former extent of the SFM. With the reopened section something like a quarter of the original railway will be in operation.

The Ferrocarril de Sóller (FS) operates from its own station in Palma, immediately across the road from that of the SFM. The line runs 27.2 km northwards across the Sierra de Tramuntana mountain range to Sóller. In consequence there are several tunnels and an impressive viaduct en route. The line was opened in 1912, primarily to convey agricultural products from the northern valleys to Palma. Like the SFM, it was built to 914 mm/3 ft gauge, which has been retained. The line is single track with loops at most of the six intermediate stations. A plaque at Palma proclaims the early electrification in 1929 by Siemens-Schuckert. The system used is 1200 V dc overhead. Traction is still provided by four 1929-built wooden-clad 470 hp Bo-Bo railcars, Nos 1-4, which have a maximum speed of 60 km/h. Each carries its full compliment of Carde & Escoriaza maker's plates. The hauled stock is of similar style and vintage. Air-conditioning is provided by the wide opening windows. The journey takes 55 minutes with a single fare of ESP 380, currently about £1.50. The line is distinctly visitor orientated - hence the deliberate maintenance of the "heritage" atmosphere - but operates a year-round service of five trains each way. In summer there is an additional late evening return from Sóller, which also operates at weekends during the mid season. The 1040 departure from Palma is designated as a Tren Turístico. The fare is nearly doubled to ESP 735, about £2.85, for which travellers benefit from an additional ten minute stop at the delightfully named Mirador del Pujol d'en Banya, overlooking Sóller. Not much of a bargain, really. The fare is probably more in line with the expectation of a British or German visitor, though, and must be a way of making money while giving the traction motors an opportunity to cool. The line is well patronised, to the extent that on the morning of our visit there were two additional trains catering mainly for coach parties. With only four "locomotives" this cannot be too easy to organise.

At Sóller, the location of the depot, the line meets with the Port de Sóller tramway. This opened in 1913 and was electrified at 600 V dc overhead from the outset. It is operated by the same company and is built to the same gauge. The voltage difference means that there is no scheduled through running but two trams were observed stored in the shed at Palma. The 5 km route is single track with one passing loop. The journey takes about 15 minutes for which the fare is ESP 115, about 45 p. The centre section is on roadside reservation but there is some interesting street running through the town at Sóller and along the coast at Port de Sóller. There is year-round operation with an intensified service during the summer months. Three original 4-wheel motor cars are still in service, augmented by a secondhand motor car and trailer from Bilbao and several 4-wheel open-sided "toast rack" trailers from the former Palma tramways system. There are also some more modern vehicles which are used during peak periods.

Light Rail in Europe (1995) Michael Taplin Capital Transport

European Railways Motive Power Volume 2 (1995) Neil Webster Metro Enterprises Ltd

Today's Railways November 1998